Monday, September 18, 2023
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New lawsuit in Idaho questions scope of state abortion exemptions

Lawsuits have also been filed this week in Oklahoma and Tennessee claiming state abortion bans prevent women from receiving life-saving care.

(CN) — A new lawsuit over Idaho’s strict abortion bans filed Monday seeks clarifications on the state’s recent exceptions to the bans that went into effect on July 1.

The abortion bans cited by the lawsuit primarily involve Idaho’s “trigger ban” or “total abortion ban,” which was passed in 2020 and went into effect in August 2022 after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The law initially prohibited abortion at all pregnancy stages while threatening felony criminal sentences of two to five years in state prison.

Another Idaho law not only prohibits abortions after six weeks but allows the family of a fetus or embryo to sue an abortion provider for at least $20,000 while imposing felony penalties and threatens revocation of a doctor's medical license. Meanwhile, Idaho’s “abortion trafficking law” went into effect in May 2023, making it illegal for adults to assist minors in obtaining legal abortions out of state without the consent of their parents or legal guardians.

The bans have caused doctors to flee the state, fearing prosecution.

“Since Roe was overturned, obstetrician-gynecologists and maternal fetal medicine specialists are resigning and leaving Idaho in droves,” the plaintiffs — four women, two doctors and the Idaho Academy of Family Physicians — say in the complaint, explaining that since Idaho’s trigger ban went into effect, four out of Idaho’s nine fetal medicine specialists have left the state while one other plans to retire this year.

That’s in addition to two rural hospitals that have closed their labor and delivery centers — one of which attributed its closure to physician resignations in response to the laws — and struggles within the state’s major hospitals to hire and retain doctors, according to the complaint.

“Prominent physicians are warning that Idaho’s abortion bans are creating an extensive healthcare desert where both maternal and infant mortality rates will spike,” the plaintiffs say, later adding the Idaho Legislature is covering up the measurable effects of its ban by ending its Maternal Mortality Review Committee — established by lawmakers to review and share data concerning pregnancy mortalities and provide remedies.

Amid tension over the fallout of the bans, the Idaho Legislature recently amended its total abortion ban to exclude instances of ectopic and molar pregnancies and situations in which abortions are necessary to save a mother’s life or prevent a pregnancy caused by reported rape or incest in the first trimester.

The four individual plaintiffs, who could not access medical abortions in Idaho, and the others seek clarity on the scope of the state’s exceptions that went into effect on July 1.

They say it is unclear whether the exceptions protect Idahoans like its patient plaintiffs, “for whom pregnancy poses serious threats” to their health, safety and families.

On Tuesday, Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, issued a statement on how the demise of Roe v. Wade has led to several multi-state abortion bans that affect women when facing serious complications in their pregnancies.

“No one should have to be at death’s door to receive essential health care, but that is exactly what happens when doctors are forced to practice medicine under threat of imprisonment,” Northup said.

The abortion rights advocacy group — which is representing the plaintiffs in addition to attorneys from Nevin, Benjamin and McKay LLP — also helped launch two similar actions in Tennessee and Oklahoma on Monday, claiming the states’ abortion bans prevent women with complicated pregnancies from receiving life-saving care. The lawsuit in Tennessee in particular is more reminiscent of the Idaho lawsuit, as it questions the limited scope of the state ban’s “emergent medical condition” exception.

Together, Monday’s lawsuits follow a series of other actions filed in the last year challenging laws that govern abortion care throughout the U.S., including Arizona, Missouri, Florida, North Carolina and Texas.

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Categories / Civil Rights, Courts, Law

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